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South Africa Part 3 - Heading Home

Bad weather and indecision pushed the fast forward button on our travels and before we knew it we were all the way up the eastern coast of South Africa to the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park on the boarder with Mozambique. Here a series of lakes and South Africa’s largest estuary line the coast. There are amazing beaches and one of the worlds top 10 coral reefs for scuba diving. We pulled into the town of St. Lucia at the southern end of the wetlands park after two long days of driving in the rain. The next morning we set off to Cape Vidal. This was a nice stretch of beach inside the wetlands park in the Eastern Shores Reserve. We went for the beach but were surprised to find we had to drive through a game reserve to get there. Little did we know what surprises laid in store.

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Meeooowww

After setting up camp close to the beach we decided to head back into the game park and do a sunset drive. A few Kudu later we came face to face with a leopard! Three months in Africa and we finally see the leopard. It was incredible. At first it looked like we would just get a quick glimpse as the beautiful cat shied away behind some bushes but we were patient and it shortly came back to the road. Almost inquisitively it approached the car and came so close that Meghan and I were quick to put up the windows. We had a long stare down, the cat looking directly at us for what seemed like an eternity showing off its impressive coat and intense eyes. The leopard played a long game of cat and mouse with us in our little car continually approaching and retreating for a full 45 minutes. It was the best. We were both so thrilled not only to see the leopard but to be alone with one on a small dirt road in a game park that was not even on our radar. Shortly After we spotted a pair of White Rhino, another rare sighting, one we had not seen since the Masai Mara when we first arrived in Kenya.
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St Lucia Leopard
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Hello Kitty

We are crazy for Game parks. Our next stop brought us to the 2nd oldest national park behind Yellowstone. In the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park we saw a new species of antelope and had a lot of fun dodging Dung Beetles.

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Male and Female Nyala showing off there stripes

The Nyala has markings similar to the Kudu but has a bushier coat with white spots in addition to the stripes that they share with the Kudu. The Male and Female have different markings and look uniquely regale.
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We watched the dung beetle (common ones not flightless as we saw in Addo) working over countless piles of elephant crap. The cool thing was that we saw them making dung balls and rolling them down the road. At times there would be five to ten rolling balls of crap in the road in front of you! Apparently the dunk beetle, like gangsters and rappers, must be a big “baller” in order to get any action from the ladies. He roles up the best ball of crap he can in order to attract the females so that they will “roll” with him. No joke, The ladies actually attach themselves to the dung ball and the male Dung Beetle roles it away. Better watch you’re back because eventually some D.B. with a bigger ball than yours is going to roll on by and steel your woman!

Sodwana bay was our last chance at some good beach time and came through strong. The sun shined, the weather was warm, and we were finally able to enjoy the ocean and estuary. The bay is known for incredible scuba diving, big game fishing, and its 4WD friendly beach. A nice freshwater lagoon creates a swimming hole in the sand and the backdrop of vegetative dunes and sea stretches out for as far as one can see.
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The Beach and Estuary at Sodwana Bay
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Our Dive Boat

The diving here is done in a “rubber ducky” This is a small dive boat that has rubber pontoons like a river raft on a solid foundation that was designed to launch from the beach and be durable enough to plow through the breaking surf. We were treated to a wild ride. The driver gunned both of the big outboard motors sending us directly into the waves. Just as a huge wave was going to come crashing over the side of the boat he turned away from the wave and out ran it. The surf was coming in at an angle to the beach and in order to get out beyond the surf zone you had to skillfully dodge the waves. The boat ride was fun enough but the diving turned out to be fantastic. We spotted a clown triggerfish which is black, yellow, and white with spots on the bottom half of its body. This was a really cool fish that we had not seen on any of our previous dives. Back on the boat the ride in was just as exhilarating as the ride out; skillfully zigzagging around waves and then hitting the beach at full speed. The driver did not back off the throttle until we had practically hit the sand and our momentum carried the boat up onto the beach and out of the water! On our second dive of the day we immediately spotted a big white tip reef shark in close range. I thought I was going to blow through all my air because my heart was racing but I calmed down and got a nice long dive with a ton of beautiful fish and colorful coral.

Pictures courtesy of our new friend from Italy, Luca.
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Clown Trigger Fish
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Nemo's Cousin

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Underwater Munslers

We had such a good time we decided to do another two dives the following day, clearly breaking the budget but we did not care this late in the trip. These dives were great. I felt great in the water and got to swim with a big leatherback turtle at the end of the second dive.

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Swimming with the Turtles

We really liked Sodwana bay. The fact that the weather was finally good played a big role in that, it was really nice to get some good beach time in. We let two afternoons pass by on the sand watching fisherman come and go, exploring tidal pools, and soaking in the hot African sun.

The end is incredibly close now. Only one major destination left and we made it a good one. Kruger National park is known world wide as one of the best wildlife viewing destinations. It is absolutely huge, said to be equal in size to Israel. Even with 7 days we were only able to see a small part. We concentrated on the south and central areas of the park were the wildlife is rich and in large numbers. Inside the park there are many different rest camps with all sorts of accommodation from camp sights to luxury chalets. This along with camp stores, restaurants, swimming pools, and outdoor movie screens made the camps feel like little towns. The camps are completely surrounded with electrical fencing and once you are in for the night you can not leave. This had us wondering who was being kept captive by the park, the people or the animals?
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Family of Giraffe in Kruger
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The restaurant at the Olifants rest camp

A typical day would start with a super early start (4:30 to 5:30) for the pre-dawn game drive. After this we would chill out at the camp until the late afternoon for the evening drive. Sometimes we would go out in the middle of the day when we were changing camps but usually it was unbearably hot. Kruger actually was the hottest place we visited, even more so than the Thar Desert in Rajasthan were we traveled 6 days by camel. The mercury peaked at 110 degrees and we actually broke the thermometer when we carelessly left it sitting in the sun! For some strange reason we actually had some of our best sightings were in middle of the day so we were glad we went out and braved the sun in our little car without AC.

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In disbelief Meghan documents a 4:45AM departure from camp.
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Scavengers - A lone Spotted Hyena and a pack of vultures devouring baby impala

After the leopard in St. Lucia we had seen the “Big Five” This term goes back to when big game hunters came to Africa to shoot Elephant, rhino, cape buffalo, lion, and leopard. Today people are more eager to shoot all five with a camera and for most seeing them all is a big deal. In Kruger we saw all of the Big Five on the first day and then again we saw all of them on the third day. Incredible. Kruger lived up to its reputation and we spent an unforgettable week in the park moving between three different camps and going on almost 20 game drives. We saw a lot of new birds and had a lot of luck finding the wildlife on our own.

Kruger BIG Five
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Momma and Baby Elephant
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Five rhino take a break from the heat in the shade
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Cape Buffalo
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Part of a pride 11 lions strong relaxing after a long nights hunt. I left the mirror in to show how close we were.
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And the Leopard, one of two we saw in Kruger

The last three days of our trip we spent relaxing in the mountainous Drakensberg Escarpment northwest of Johannesburg. We got out for a nice hike that got cut short by a 1000 legions of safari ants and spent my 2nd birthday on this trip enjoying a nice meal at a Mozambican restaurant. We spent our last night in Pretoria, at the same backpacker’s hostel we started at six weeks before. In the morning we set out to do some last minute souvenir shopping and made a stop at Johannesburg’s’ Apartheid museum. A somber reminder of the countries divided recent history.
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Borks Luck Potholes

So here we are, on a flight to New York. Strangely calm we go through the motions as we have so many times before but these are the last flights. We sit side by side in disbelieve as we cross the equator and continue up over Europe. Further north we fly past the southern tip of Greenland before dropping south through Canada and into the States. From my window I can see the Connecticut coast on Long Island Sound and in vain I strain to catch a glimpse of some familiarity in the beaches I grew up on. And then it hits us, or rather we hit it, we are home again. But the circle has not yet been completed. We spent two weeks with my family on the East Coast. The last leaves of the fall foliage had hung on for us giving my parent’s house a beautiful backdrop of color. We took a trip on the commuter train into NYC to catch up with an old friend. We took the opportunity to visit the Guggenheim Art Museum and have a slow stroll through central park. My parents joined us on a road trip up to New Hampshire to visit My Aunt and Uncle at their beautiful home on Lake Winnipesaukee and to visit my 97 year old Grandmother on Cape Cod. After a beautiful Family Thanksgiving with all the traditional dishes we set off on the last leg home to Colorado.

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Lingering foliage from my parents back deck
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Raking up the Red Leaves of a Japanese Maple
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Grand Central Station, NYC
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Mom, Dad, Uncle Russ, and Aunt Gene

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Me and my Grandma

We may be home, but there is more to come, so stay tuned for more travel details. I am sure at some point soon this will all sink in and we will have a lot more to say about it but for now we are still letting it all soak in. Now it is time to find jobs, a new home, and get back to life as we once new it.

Peter and Meghan’s Big Trip

Posted by pmunson 19:42 Archived in South Africa

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Comments

Greeeeat to have you both home and to spend some time with you. I love to relive your tirp through your blogs and pictures. that leopard picture needs to go on the wall. Love you both.

by Dad

We are sooo glad to have you home. But, I am terribly sad to see your blogs end. They have provided me with many fantastic minutes of fantasy travel (for me, that is). I hope you continue to recount stories from your world trip - and many more to come.

by Katy

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